/ Language /
Every family has some cute story to tell about their precious child’s adorable mangling of the language. My family told how my cousin would be put on the potty and told to “tinkle.” Soon Pat was saying “kittle.” Soon our whole family was saying kittle! We didn’t say “I gotta go take a piss.” We didn’t say “I need to urinate. We’d say “I gotta go make kittle.” A tribute to Cousin Pat, whom we all loved, and revered: despite my sister and I being in position to be considered the even-younger, even-more-adorable language manglers. No one stays the precious infant forever.
Note: that particular example presents a simple metathesis, a transposing of the /t/ and the /k/ positions. The family joke spread, I don’t know how far. The Gilmans started it, the Knatzs adopted it. There may be Gilmans / Knatzs today saying kittle without any idea where it comes from or that it started as a family joke. Every family does something similar, no?
My wife’s favorite applying to her family (specifically to her herself) was I think a common one (metathesis again). Hilary as a child would say “pzghetti” for spaghetti.
My friend Rose made everyone go har, har har, yuck! when she would talk, around Bryn Mawr, about methetasis!
Sure Does Stink
Well, one of my own, from the early 1940s just came into my head: not a mispronunciation, but a misunderstanding: common, common, common: universal.
We’re walking on the beach. Paconic Bay. We’d just rowed across Squire’s Pond, from the Hamptons cottage my uncle was building, home from the war. Now we were walking on the beach, all the Knatzs: my mother, my father, my sister, me, and a good contingent of Gilmans: definitely my cousin Tommy, the senior child among us, the know-it-all, because he was the speaker, the authority.
Walking on the beach we came upon the carcass of a horseshoe crab. It was upside down, dead on its back, and uncountable little critters were having at it, eating what was left of the body.
Tommy picks it up by its spike tail.
Euw, Beth retreats.
Tommy says, “This is supposed to be extinct.”
“Sure does stink,” says Paul: to general merriment from the adults.
Chee, that kid looks just like my son. & like my grandson. & just like me too!
Not that many years later I became the age that Tommy had been then. He was off at Princeton, still a know-it-all; I was becoming the local ten year old know-it-all. And the experts who coerced themselves onto me as my “teachers” thought they’d gone back to Genesis when they traced etymologies to Latin. By the time I was in grad school we were tracing things to Indo-European. I soon saw that the furthest we could see was hardly older than yesterday. Humans have been babbling for seventy or so thousand year, muttering for a couple of million years. Hebrew, Sanscrit, Latin … Sumerian … all recent, recent.
But I bet this: if we could find a fossil of speech from sixty thousand years ago (or from one hundred and sixty thousand years ago) we might very well have found some precious child’s mispronunciation of kittle.
Rose, Love Story
Rose, Anton’s Rose, my good friend Anton, Anton and Rose. Rose died, oh gosh, forty-odd years ago. Lymphalma. Went through her overnight. Suddenly plump Rose weighted eighty pounds. Then she weighted nothing. 1968ish.
There’s something about Rose I want to tell the world, while I can. That year, 1960s, the story of Rose’s birth of Adam, and immediate cancer and demise was burning through that year’s MLA meeting like wildfire. Segal heard it, along with everybody else. He didn’t know Rose or Anton or me … He didn’t know that Rose was Bryn Mawr, like my Hilary, while Anton was, like me, Columbia.
No: Segal just wrote a novel, making it up: the girl Radcliffe, the guy Harvard. He called it Love Story.